DIARY - 22 SEPTEMBER 2003
David Gordon Kirkpatrick, Kempsey.
June 13, 1927, - September 19, 2003
SLIM - A DUSTY SENSE OF HUMOUR
Dusty - 1979
I first interviewed Slim Dusty for the Launceston Examiner as a cadet
journalist in 1967 he revealed little of the latent humour that lurked
Van Diemens Land in the sixties was a little like Warrnambool in the
Despite spawning groups such as the Singing Kettles from Scottsdale
the country fans were a serious bunch and Slim treated them accordingly
My only previous Dusty experience had been a concert at the Warrnambool
Town Hall during school holidays in the fifties.
And, as I was reminded at the launch of Nu Country TV at the Bush
Inn on Saturday by fellow Warrnambool refugee Lurch McConnell, we
saw Slim frequently at the annual agricultural show.
doesn't count because we also saw other country singers perform and local
footy stars fight in Jimmy Sharman's boxing tent.
My old man, a frequent president of the agricultural society, was keener
for me to ride in a troop carrier with the then Governor Sir William Slim
than a fellow dairy farmer.
And our home had more Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, Marty Robbins and Elvis
records, mostly singles, at the time than those of Slim that grew rapidly
over the years.
like some embryonic tunes by fellow recently deceased icon Johnny Cash,
were among those we de-composed for light relief behind bluestone bars
in a big city boarding school.
Among culprits was fellow Warrnambool born inmate Dan Robinson, bemused
by our coastal Elvis fan club, who introduced us to the music of Dylan
as an antidote.
Robinson, double bass player in the school orchestra, had graduated from
the Weird Mob to the Wild Cherries and Virgil Bros by the time I interviewed
With sweet serendipity it was through long time Dusty producer Rod Coe,
bassist in the Sydney version of Dan's veteran outlaw country band Hit
& Run with a young Andrew Baylor and an old Mick Lieber in the early
eighties, that Slim's humour peaked.
It certainly wasn't visible in the seventies when his record company EMI
chose me to MC a Slim Dusty promotion at the Myer record bar in Melbourne
Slim was beseiged by autograph hunters, many women of mature years, and
I suggested he emulate still life models for the Plaster Casters then
making a bawdy impression in the rock scene.
WILLIE AND MALCOLM
before Slim hit chart tops in 1980 with Duncan - penned by Sydney ABC
mail room boss Pat Alexander.
It was on a flight to Sydney from Tamworth where I covered the annual
festival for the Sydney Daily Mirror as a reward for 12 months of writing
about punks, new romantics and other rock faddists, a voice suggested
a Duncan parody was timely.
Shotgun Willie Nelson's first Australasian tour was set for February,
1981, so I wrote the guts of I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie.
I sang it down the line to Barry Coburn's Yarra Bank studio in Chapel
St where singer Marty Atchison and his fellow Dead Livers polished and
Coe broke the news to Slim as latter day Nashville superstar manager,
publisher and record company CEO Coburn dealt with Alexander's publisher.
Coburn rush released the song on an EP with sibling parody I'd Love To
Smoke With Malcolm, penned by expatriate Kiwi Peter Caulton and the late
A P Johnson, on South Of The Border Records.
The first pressing of the cassette was flown to me in Auckland where I
covering Willie's tour for the Sydney Daily Mirror.
I gave it to Willie's sound man Buddy who played it to Willie who decided
it make aural joy as his pre concert tour theme and warm up tune through
the house speakers.
But, with more serendipity, the first concert was highlighted by an all
in brawl between Samoan bikie gang The Head Hunters and the local chapter
of the Hells Angels who were VIP backstage guests of Willie.
The Head Hunters pelted beer bottles and other missiles on stage at Willie's
opening act - the West Texan comedian and former American Country Countdown
host Don Bowman.
This fanned open warfare as the Hells Angels rushed to Bowman's aid and
ambulances ferried the victims to hospital until peace broke out when
Willie and band entered stage early to perform Blood Mary Morning and
soothe the bloodied combatants.
It meant I had a front page story for the Telegraph, sequels for the Mirror
and Australian and a ticket to ride on the rest of the New Zealand tour
to Auckland and Christchurch.
And there was more musical merriment as Willie's promoter Ian Riddington
chose me to moonlight as a tour bus driver from the Picton ferry to Christchurch
- home town and latter day wedding locale for Coburn and country singing
bride and former Hollywood child star Jewel Blanch Coburn.
It was there that Willie, starved of his daily herbal intake, belatedly
came into possession of something to inhale in his roll your own.
But there was one small problem.
The Christchurch mayor, who Willie had arranged to go jogging with as
a happy human interest story for the local paper and TV, was waiting in
the lobby with a media crew.
So one of Willie's minders phoned the lobby and asked His Honour to give
Willie a few extra minutes to tie up his laces.
But that's probably another chapter in this saga which seems to have a
Another two tunes - Atchison's oft recorded song Holy Mary and the Bill
Jackson penned Lamington Brothers tune Keep On Rolling - were later reprised
on the Dead Livers debut album Greatest Misses, the second release on
the Nu Country label.
The first was Johnson's Greatest Hits And Ex-Misses - also recorded at
Coburn's studio and lovingly restored by Dead Livers and Broken Spoke
guitarist Rodger Delfos, now the sound man for Nu Country TV.
That album of Johnson originals - now a collectors' item - is still available
for a mere $10 plus $3 postage through this web page.
WILLIE & WAYLON AND KINKY HIT FRONT PAGES
song enthusiastically adopted as Willie's pre concert tour-theme music
it grew legs and earned front page headlines.
Among other characters to earn a verse each were singing Texan crime novelist
Kinky Friedman, the late Waylon Jennings and Willie's merchandise manager
And to add smoke to the fire most of the illegal weed wafting in the song
took place in the beer garden at the Evening Star - a Surry Hills hotel
frequented by journalists from the Daily Mirror, Telegraph and Australian.
One verse was spawned by a gig at The Town Talk Hotel in Tamworth where
Franks and a cast of characters joined Hit & Run for a performance
of Ray Wylie Hubbard's epic Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother.
It also entered where country music rarely went - mainstream radio such
as Rod Muir's then MMM-FM station in Sydney as a novelty song.
And there was mock shock when Dennis Scanlan and Paul Makin played the
song on Melbourne AM station 3DB and pulled if off half way through.
Herald TV writer the late Dave Dark, who was Warrnambool's first rock
singer when he sang at half time at movie matinees at the now defunct
Liberty Theatre when he was a 16 year old cadet at The Standard, landed
that story on the then staid Herald's front page.
The story also graced front page of Melbourne bi-weekly tabloid Truth
under the quaint Sydney by-line of David Rich.
But by the time Willie and Slim were photographed for the Adelaide Advertiser
there was media backlash.
An Adelaide Advertiser reporter suggested to Willie that he was promoting
drug use by endorsing the song.
Slim, obviously bemused because of Willie's fondness for the weed, dead
panned to the stunned scribe "what about Duncan?"
Willie spoke to his label CBS about commercial release and Coe dragged
Slim, wife Joy McKean, daughter Anne Kirkpatrick and band members to Sydney's
Lone Star Café to catch the Dead Livers live.
It was there that the epic three sons of dairy farmers picture was snapped
- Coe from New Zealand, Slim from Nulla Nulla Creek near Kempsey and this
writer from the banks of the Hopkins on the Shipwreck Coast.
The Dead Livers also performed their first hit at the famed Pub With No
Beer Festival at Taylors Arms on the North Coast of NSW after an appearance
on Donnie Sutherland's Seven Network show Sounds and the John Singleton
Ten Network variety show.
DUSTY MOVIE IN ALICE SPRINGS
was also plenty of mirth when Slim invited me to Alice Springs for the
making of the Slim Dusty movie in September, 1983.
was to be a behind the scenes feature for the Daily Mirror on the
$2.5 million movie with accompanying pix.
But on my first day in town popular raconteur, bush poet and balladeer
Ted Egan invited Slim, family and band to his new home that had the
enticing name of Sinkatinny Downs.
The only part of the home that had been built was the subterranean
cellar where Ted kept his wine, beer and art collection.
Egan said he hoped to finish his house that summer but was tempted
to live in the cellar when not on the road.
a party you hose the floor and it drains itself," Egan revealed at
There were no cast or crew casualties in the hot spring christening of
the cellar although Rolf Harris later severed a tendon in his hand on
a nocturnal visit.
Meanwhile back at the scene of the filming - an old telegraph station
on the Todd River - the movie was about to earn some unexpected publicity.
A camera crew, precariously perched in a cherry picker crane to give extra
elevation while filming Slim & band in concert, plunged more than
10 metres onto the dry river bed.
Photography director David Eggby of Melbourne underwent surgery in Alice
Springs for a broken leg, arm and jaw and a fractured cheekbone before
being sent south for further treatment.
I didn't note in the Daily Mirror what injuries were suffered by focus
puller Ian Jones but there was an investigation by the Department Of Mines
And Energy to establish whether there was any foul play in the snapping
of the hydraulic ram on the crane.
That was just the start of the bonus publicity and none of it was blamed
on a dingo.
In a 48 hour period a movie camera equipment truck overturned about 20
miles from Alice Springs after colliding with a cow.
PURPLE AND THE COW
car Old Purple, a 1971 Fairlane with 16,000 miles on the clock the third
time around, still had its original engine when it suffered body damage
when it collided with two steers while travelling from Ayers Rock to Alice.
Although the crew had permission to film at Ayers Rock there was a fear
that they may have disturbed the native spirits.
Movie producer Kent Chadwick evacuated his 58 member cast and crew from
the Alice but not until after Slim performed his concert on the river
"The show must go on," said Slim who believed the dramas had
brought his crew closer together during making of the movie for which
he penned Just Rolling.
Fans had driven from the missions, hiked from the stations, ridden across
the desert and some travelled hundreds of miles to catch Slim's concert
for the movie.
"It makes us even more determined than ever to do our best in the
movie," said Slim who was forced off the road in 1981 because of
a throat nodule which was removed in surgery in 1982.
"It's reality. These things happen. It's a fact of life. There's
a great team spirit. It's slowly grown into a great family affair."
KARMA AND LEW WILLIAMS
Slim's territory - the longest yard where he had performed since the birth
of his career before the War.
"It's as if spirits from the past are still there and we're intruding
and disturbing something that's been here for so long," Slim confided
on the movie set as I wondered if extraneous forces may have primed the
"But there have been pretty good vibes all the way through. There's
definitely, to me, a hidden spiritual beauty there.
"You can feel it. This is so old. It's a peaceful spirit, not a bad
spirit. I don't think the accidents were related to it. It's just built
up since Ayers Rock, built up to a chain of events. To me there's a rugged
dream time beauty.
The movie finished with a concert at the Sydney Opera House but not before
another tragedy to one of its characters.
At the movie premiere party in Sydney in 1984 I asked Slim about a gnarled
character who had caught my eye.
Slim broke down and cried as he told me about Queensland rodeo rider,
cattleman and bush raconteur Lew Williams of a cancer less than a month
after being filmed.
Williams, 66, recited poetry for Slim in an emotional scene shot at Bowen
on the coast of North Queensland.
"It was a hard part for Lew to play," Slim, recovering from
a pancreatic disease which caused cancellation of his 1984 tour, revealed
while choking back tears.
"Lew knew he was suffering cancer and only had a short time to live
when we arrived in Bowen. But he didn't want to let us down so he volunteered
to recite his poetry around the old camp fire for us.
"Lew was the toughest man I ever met. He would walk across prickly
pear without shoes. He was a genuine Aussie folk hero with a heart of
gold. Whenever we came to Bowen on our numerous tours he'd lay out the
read carpet for us.
"The saddest part is he never got to see the movie. He succumbed
to cancer only three weeks after we shot the Bowen scenes in August. Although
I've seen the movie several times it still cut me up when I saw him acting
his role again tonight."
WITH NO BEER WARS WITH TOM T HALL
was not amused when little Kentucky born mate, Tom T Hall, revamped 1958
hit The Pub With No Beer which was inspired by a Dan Sheehan poem.
Hall cut Slim's classic with a new title, Bar With No Beer, American lyrics
and no credit or royalties for writer Gordon Parsons on his 1985 album
Song In A Sea Shell.
Injunctions were threatened by Parsons publisher Barry Chapman of Castle
Music who flew to the U.S. and sued over copyright infringement.
The Pub With No Beer was the last song recorded by Slim on April Fool's
Day in 1957 but wasn't considered important enough to be released as a
Instead it came out as the B side of Saddle Boy in September 1957 - but
by early 1958 it was a No 1 hit here and in England and Ireland.
When it was released in America it entered the charts with a bullet and
was then promptly banned because it was about drinking.
In those days cheating and drinking songs were far too taboo for Nashville,
deep in the buckle of the he Bible belt.
But this was just another ripple in the bar wars surrounding the song's
WARS WITH TAYLORS ARM
locals considered the hit was a mere rehash of a poem written by cane
farmer Dan Sheehan in 1943 and published in the North Queensland Register
The Sheehan family fronted Slim when he was performing in Ingham and claimed
it as their own.
"There is no disputing that old Dan Sheehan wrote a poem called A
Pub Without Beer and that parts of it were similar to the song,"
"What has always annoyed me is the suggestion by some people that
Gordon Parsons deliberately stole the song. It wasn't that way at all.
"About a year before I recorded the song Gordon visited Taylors Arm
in northern NSW.
During the visit he was given a piece of paper on which were some handwritten
verses of the poem. The mate who gave it to him said it had been about
for years and Gordon assumed it was one of those anonymous bush ballads
you find floating around."
There has long been spirited debate about which is the original pub with
Parsons claimed he wrote the lyrics around the characters and animals
that frequented the Taylors Arm pub.
It prompted the popular, annual Pub With No Beer festival near the NSW
hillside town nestled high among plantations diverse as bananas and other
This upset the locals at the Day Dawn Hotel in Ingham where an incident
prompted the poem that Sheehan wrote.
SLIM AND TOM T DROWN THEIR BLUES
tourist of Australia, famed author and former TV host, claimed he first
heard of the song from Bill Cosby.
But the veteran singer, whose Harper Valley PTA seems to have revivals
every decade, forgot about the song until Johnny Cash sent him a tape
Cash suggested it would be a natural for Hall but hadn't envisaged his
little mate would Americanise it and claim the writing royalties and credit.
But after a lengthy legal battle, which chewed up more cash in legal fees
than Tom's cut earned in royalties, future pressings carried Parsons name
as the writer.
This was suffice justice for Parsons, who died shortly after his belated
victory, and Slim who resumed his friendship with Hall, now 67.
Forty years after the original song topped Australian and English charts,
Slim buried the hatchet by including Hall's cut of Drowning My Blues on
tribute album, Not So Dusty in 1998.
"Tom was very good to us when my wife Joy and I went to Nashville,"
Slim, then 70, told me.
"He showed us all around in his big black stretch limo, greeted Joy
with a big bunch of flowers and met me with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
He also took us to our digs - The Opryland Hotel - which covers 53 acres
and is the second largest hotel in the world."
BLOKE WITH NO COKE
So this is
probably a good time to reveal there was also another version of Pub With
Wolverines singer Darcy LeYear and this writer penned The Bloke With No
Coke in a sojourn that also produced Hillbillies Hate Change and Jodie
- both recorded by Darcy and former Melbourne country singer B J McKay
- and Death Breath which was cut by Nev Nicholls.
But, like our other joint compositions Deadlock Heart, Redneck Choir and
Repo Man, it never ascended from demo tape.
A TREKKIE AND TRUCKIE
U.S. trip Slim gathered memorabilia to adorn the mantle piece of his North
Shore Sydney home.
Nestled among 35 plus gold guitars, MBE and OA awards, is a Klingon alarm
clock, models of the Enterprise and a signed photograph from Captain Kirk.
The Dusty song Star Truckie gives a few clues to his other life as a trekkie.
"Beam me up Scottie, I'm ready to ride/ to take my place at the helm
of the Enterprise/ I'm a Star Trucker - a Star Trucker/ and it's time
for me to go interplanetary."
Slim may have suffered a heart attack and suffered kidney cancer, causing
removal of a kidney, in latter years.
But he never lost his sense of humour in a career spanning 106 albums
- an amazing feat in a nation where his genre is not a radio staple.
Although he only finished eight of 13 planned songs for his 106th and
final album it's a safe bet the disc will emerge.
And fate ensured he survived Johnny Cash, 71, by a week and, with just
a dash of irony, parody prince and actor Sheb Wooley, 82, of Purple People
Eater fame by three days.
NURTURED YOUNG TALENT
recording and writing - songs, poems and books - and his painful death
from kidney cancer has been well covered elsewhere in the mainstream media.
So has his encouragement of young talent diverse as Keith Urban, The Kernaghans,
Troy Cassar-Daley, The Chambers and his own offspring - daughter Anne
and his doctor son David.
The elder statesman also encouraged and nurtured a vast array of musicians
in his touring bands which performed the outback and coast - an oasis
where too few modern artists of any genre venture.
But equally importantly he recorded songs from writers south of the Murray
Dixon line when country wasn't cool.
Among beneficiaries were Bernie O'Brien and Saltbush peers, Bill Chambers,
Alistair Jones and Keith Glass in their younger days.
And he wasn't afraid to tackle tunes such as Charleville by Cold Chisel
refugee Don Walker who also gave Red Rivers his break.
And that all happened long before Slim gave exposure to younger artists
from diverse genres on Not So Dusty.
Nu Country TV will pay tribute to Slim and Johnny Cash, whose obituary
is a work in progress, in the series debuting on C 31, nee Channel 3l,
at 8 p m on Saturday October 4.
When I interviewed Slim about Not So Dusty in 1998 I asked him if the
recent deaths of singing cowboys Roy Rogers, 88, and Gene Autry, 91, worried
"We keep ploughing on," replied Slim who tilled the topsoil
65 years ago with The Way The Cowboy Dies.
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